In response to the call for every councillor, past and present to give their account of what they knew and what they did regarding the CSE whilst in office I submit my account as follows:
I was originally elected as a labour councillor in May 2002 and resigned from the Labour Party in disgust around 2007/2008 and finished my term of office as an independent until May 2011.
I did attend a meeting on CSE, which I assume was the seminar in April 2005.
I think the seminar was about trying to change people’s perceptions by referring to the issue as Child Sexual Exploitation rather than the commonly held view that it was Child Prostitution. I believe that the total number of children at risk was given but not just from child sexual exploitation.
The seminar did talk about, amongst many other things such as alcohol and drugs, a number of young girls and two or three Asian taxi drivers and we were told that this issue was being dealt with by the police. I do remember them mentioning the need not to blow this up into a racial issue.
Elected Members are, quite rightly, not allowed to delve into individual’s case files and so they have to rely on the overview presented by officers. They most certainly cannot get involved in police inquiries. I recall saying something to the effect that I realise I am not allowed to know the particular details of any cases but could I have the officer’s assurance that this matter was being dealt with fully. I was assured that everything was in hand. As a layperson I have no alternative but to be guided by the professionals in these matters.
The briefing was very low key and presented the problem in a very different way to the situation revealed in Alexis Jay’s report. The information we were given at the seminar gave us no idea that the exploitation was so widespread and the treatment of the girls was so terrible.
Although the Jay report says at page 110 page 13.45 that an unambiguous and explicit presentation was made to the, all officer, Executive Group of the Rotherham Children and Young People’s Board at the end of 2004, I believe that by the time it was given at the seminar in April 2005 the contents must have been seriously watered down so that there was little resemblance to the one given in 2004 to the Executive Group. I believe that Prof Jay thought that the seminar in 2005 given to the 30 elected members was actually the same as the one given in 2004, but that was not the case.
At the 2005 seminar there was definitely no mention of the 50 members of an Asian family, 319 girl victims or the names and addresses of the hotels, takeaways or taxi firms that were involved in sexual activity as Professor Jay stated.
It appears that at the end of the 2005 seminar it was decided that ‘The presentation of this seminar should be made to the Youth cabinet, School Governing Bodies and the Magistrate’s Court’. The presentation that was given to The Executive Group in November 2004, with the explicit details it contained, would never have been sent to these groups.
Bearing in mind that there were senior councillors and officers tasked with dealing with these matters, when I left the seminar I cannot remember having any serious concerns that the issue was not being dealt with and therefore there was nothing more that I needed to do.
My record as a thorn in the side of senior Labour Councillors, even when I was in Labour Group but especially after I left, means that if I had felt from the seminar that someone was not doing their job or that the problems were remotely like those presented in the Jay report, I would most certainly never have let this rest. Why would I have?
From that time and until Andrew Norfolk’s article was published, I cannot remember the subject ever being discussed again in my presence. As far as I can work out, by the time these events came to light I had retired as a Councillor. Due to me being an independent councillor and not being friendly with most other councillors I did not socialise with them and so would not have picked up on any discussions they might have had about this matter.
When Andrew Norfolk’s article was published in the Times I was as shocked as everyone else and even more shocked when Alexis Jay’s report came out.
Because of the secretive way that the leader of the council organised the cabinet system in Rotherham, Backbench Councillors were told as little as possible, they had no power and no vote in the decisions that were made. As an independent councillor I was told even less. In addition I believe much of the reporting and recommended action required on this matter would have gone to the Safeguarding Children’s Board which is independent of the Council.
Although I didn’t know and wasn’t told, it could perhaps be said that I should have asked. The only problem with that is I didn’t know there was anything I needed to ask.
In view of the fact that I have been one of the greatest critics of the Council’s leadership, that there was also an opposition councillor present at the seminar and that the decision was made to make the same presentation to the Magistrates and School Governing Bodies, I find it difficult to understand how anyone can suggest that there was some kind of cover up by Councillors and that this briefing seminar meant those that were there knew all about the problems now exposed by Alexis Jay nearly ten years later.
When this situation has died down and the bloodletting has finished and the real culprits have been identified we all need to look to how we are to support these victims and repair the reputation of this Town.
There are serious problems to solve in this Town and we need serious and capable people to help solve them. The problem is that with all the collateral damage that will have been done to anyone remotely associated with this issue, I doubt there will be anyone left to help with the recovery.
When writing my account I have tried to be as honest and truthful as possible but all the above has been a memory test of my recollection from nearly ten years ago and I would be surprised if I have scored 100% in the test.
I am surprised that anyone wishing to find out what was discussed at the seminar in 2005 didn’t do as I have done and simply obtain a copy of the presentation to see if it corroborates what is being said. Even better try to obtain the verbatim notes taken by the committee clerk at the seminar, which would show precisely what everyone knew and said.
I do not wish to criticise Professor Jay because the work that she has done has brought this scale of this whole issue to everyone’s attention. That does not mean however that her report is 100% factually correct, as I have pointed out above. Perhaps a little more ‘Due Diligence’ would not have gone amiss.
Since writing this report I have been sent a copy of the presentation (I believe in error) that was made to the, all officer, Executive group of the Children and Young People seminar in November 2004. It is in that presentation that the 319 victims are quoted together with the names and addresses of Taxi firms, Takeaways and Hotels as well as personal individual children’s case files and I was amazed by its contents and know if I had seen it before I would have remembered it. I can therefore say with complete confidence and certainty that a presentation of this type would never have been given to Backbench Elected Members let alone the School Governing Bodies and the Youth Cabinet. The details it contained would or should have formed part of a police investigation and would never have been allowed to be shared with all and sundry.
This situation cannot and will not be sorted out on a blog site. I have therefore asked to meet Louise Casey to pass on the information that I am aware of. I will not be answering any further questions on this blog but should anyone wishes to put any questions to me I am prepared to meet them face to face to answer them. Let’s hope I am not the only person prepared to account for themselves. Just because I am the only person to give my account please don’t exaggerate my status in this whole affair, I am but a bit player.
The following attached .pdf file contains the sanitized version of the presentation that was given to the ‘All member Seminar’ in April 2005 that I have received from Rotherham Borough Council.
This would appear to be the slides presented at the November 2004 seminar, and not the seminar Peter attended?
This is the first slide, Peter seems to have missed that little detail and would explain why both documents were provided to Peter, as they clearly show the difference between the slides and the delivered verbal information!
Published previously: Risky Business called it right, that was too inconvenient for some!